Patriots wide receiver Aaron Dobson ran around the press coverage of Giants cornerback Trumaine McBride and bolted down the sideline. The two engaged in a minor handfight, with the defensive back seeming to hold Dobson up a little. That this didn’t get called during this week’s edition of Fun With Flags is no matter, because Dobson got away from the coverage just in time to look over his shoulder, leap into the air and toward the end zone, and make the catch for the 33-yard touchdown.
That sequence, in essence, is what the Patriots were hoping to get when they drafted Dobson in the second round in 2013. One knock against New England’s pass-catchers in past years was their lack of size, speed, and downfield play-making ability. That presence has not been completely missing from the Patriots this summer — Brandon LaFell brings a similar skill set to the table — but Dobson’s development and presence in the offense is considered central to their success in 2014.
Dobson suffered a stress fracture in his left foot during the 2013 season, and did not participate in the Patriots’ OTAs and mandatory minicamp this offseason while recovering from offseason surgery to repair the injury. He only began participating in practice on Aug. 11, and didn’t participate in team drills until after that point.
Despite some rust, he moved well and did not seem cautious about pushing off of the injured foot. He was targeted nine times, and came up with three catches for 57 yards and a touchdown. Some of the missed connections were poor throws by Jimmy Garoppolo, others were bad routes by Dobson.
The important thing is that Dobson got on the field in a live game situation, and got off the field healthy. As long as that continues to happen, he should keep improving.
Here are some more notes from the Patriots’ 16-13 loss to the Giants.
— Attendance: RB Brandon Bolden, TE Michael Hoomanawanui, LB Dont’a Hightower, OL Chris Martin, DL Dominique Easley, OT Sebastian Vollmer, TE Rob Gronkowski, DT Chris Jones, and DT Sealver Siliga were not active for the game.
— Starting offense: QB Jimmy Garoppolo, RB James White, WR Aaron Dobson, WR Josh Boyce, WR Jeremy Gallon, TE Tim Wright, LT Jordan Devey, LG Josh Kline, C Bryan Stork, RG Chris Barker, RT Cameron Fleming
— Starting defense: DE Jerel Worthy, NT L.T. Tuipulotu, DE Zach Moore, OLB Darius Fleming, ILB Steve Beauharnais, ILB James Morris, OLB Michael Buchanan, CB Malcolm Butler, CB Logan Ryan, FS Alfonzo Dennard, SS Duron Harmon
— Josh Kline was listed in the stock up, but there were some rough spots for him. He technically let up two sacks, but Jimmy Garoppolo held the ball too long on one of them. The sack in the fourth quarter was just poor technique by Kline, who let Giants defensive tackle Israel Idonije get past him with less than a minute left in the game. Kline wasn’t a force in the running game, either, and failed to create lanes on a few runs that were designed to go in his direction. His strong suit appears to be in pass protection, where his sound fundamentals and quick feet can help him keep blockers at bay. He played every snap of the game at left guard, and looks like the most likely candidate to replace Logan Mankins.
— Bryan Stork got his first game action of the preseason, and appeared to hold his ground in the passing game. He also had a nice block to steer the defensive tackle out of the way on a nine-yard run by James White with 13:34 to go in the second quarter. He injured his hand in the Patriots’ fifth practice of training camp and returned to practice just 10 days ago. The Patriots had been hoping that Stork would compete with Ryan Wendell for the starting job at center, but they reconfigured the line to include veteran lineman Dan Connolly in that competition instead. Neither Connolly nor Wendell participated, and it’s possible that both men will remain on the roster after the cutdown to 53 players.
— Zach Moore has changed my mind. My original 53-man roster projection did not include him, but I may have to find room for the rookie defensive end in a final version. He has steadily improved this preseason, and although he went 8-12 in the 1-on-1 pass-rush drills, he has shown an improved ability to use his freakish gifts. He had two impressive tackles on one drive (10:21 and 8:13 left in the second quarter), and he had to shed a blocker before making the play both times. He also played a role in the Patriots’ 3rd-and-goal stop of Giants running back Peyton Hillis, shoving the offensive tackle aside to help clog the lane and allowing safety Nate Ebner to make the tackle. Moore spent most of his night lined up as a defensive tackle or defensive end with his hand in the ground, but they could ask him to play some outside linebacker in their 3-4 looks if he can cover.
— As you may have noticed in the starting lineups, Alfonzo Dennard was lined up at safety. Logan Ryan and Kyle Arrington have also filled in at safety this preseason, and Bill Belichick has previously explained that the decision to deploy the defensive backfield in that manner may be based on the offensive formation more so than the defensive player’s positional designation. No one knows exactly what they’re going to do at safety. They’ve had cornerbacks play there at times, and they’ve had Patrick Chung and Duron Harmon spell each other at other times. One thing is for sure: the Patriots have the element of surprise on their side.
— Speaking of Harmon, he’s been focusing on his tackling this offseason. There was a moment where it all seemed to click. He came crashing down from the deep safety spot on the right side of the field, squared up running back Andre Williams, and brought him to the ground. Three plays later, Harmon was one of a few defensive players who missed an opportunity to bring down Williams, wrapping his arms around the ball-carrier only to slip right off his jersey. Harmon has been up and down in run defense this preseason, which may help explain why the Patriots coaching staff has substituted him out for Chung in running sitautions.
— Tim Wright is a quick study. He has to be in order to play in the Patriots’ offense just two days after getting off the plane. Most of his routes were pretty simple, taking advantage of his ability to get out into space, catch a quick pass, and turn upfield for extra yards. His first-step quickness off the line was impressive. He showed some crisp cuts when breaking off his route, but only ran a handful of routes that really gave him an opportunity to show that off. He has the skill set to be a nice compliment to Rob Gronkowski when he becomes more acclimated with the offense.
— A couple injuries to monitor: Michael Buchanan (ankle) and James Morris (knee) both left the game, and neither returned after leaving with a questionable designation. The Patriots were already very thin at both spots, so losing more players could really hurt their depth. Buchanan and Morris were both on my most recent 53-man roster projections, but depending on the severity of those injuries, their statuses could be in question.